Dade City Garden Club

2011 photo by Norman Carey

History of Dade City Garden Club (1993)

This article appeared in the Pasco Shopper / Pasco News on June 30-July 1, 1993.


On May 9, 1947, a group of local women met with Thelma Gilbert and Mrs. John Dolcater of Tampa, past president of the Tampa Federation of Garden Clubs, to discuss the purpose and organization of a Dade City Garden Club.

The ladies voted to organize the club and the date of the meetings was set as the second Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. September through May.

The following officers were elected from the floor:

President, Miss Thelma Gilbert; First Vice-president, Pearl Bessinger; Second Vice-president, Mildred Huckabay; Recording Secretary, Vee B. Jones and Treasurer, Christine Slough.

The president-elect appointed the following committee chairmen following the outline of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs:

Awards and finance - Mae Peek; birds and conservation - Dorothy Lock; civic - Essie Blitch; distribution - Louise Edwards; flower show - Martha Covington; horticulture - Ruth Massey; junior gardens - Elizabeth Thomas; historian - Vivian Dayton; membership - Grace Larkin; visiting gardens - Madelyn Butler; roadside development - Bernice Felbert; publicity - Vee Jones and program and literature - Betty Burks.

The rate for club dues was set at $1.50 per member until the new club year beginning in Sept. 1947.

On Sept 10, 1947, the beginning of the 1947-1948 club year, the first meeting was held at the Woman’s Club building. It was a banner day. Club year books were distributed, annual dues paid, the By-Laws chairman presented the constitution and by-laws which were accepted after some changes presented from the floor.

The Dade City Garden Club was accepted for federation with the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs on April 21, 1948.

During the annual meeting on May 19, 1948, a decision was made to divide the membership and organize into five circles, the names being drawn for each circle and the chairman of each designated.

Hibiscus - Pearl Bessinger; Hollyhock - Mildred Price; Magnolia - Mae Peek; Mimosa - Leta Thornton and Poinsettia - Catherine Deal.

The first Flower Show was presented to the public on March 31, 1949 at the Womans Club Building. Theme of the show was “The Spirit of Spring.” This first show ushered in a succession of 18 additional ones, several of which were most outstanding.

The 1953 event, theme, “Old South,” held at the Pasco County Fairgrounds building, won the National Purple Rosette Award.

This award is given on the quality of the entire show from the schedule, staging and theme carried throughout the presentation. This award is much coveted by all clubs. Dade City also won the scrap book award the same year.

On May 6, 1949, the Club Charter was filed with 57 names on the signature list.

Records for the years between September 1949 and September 1958 are not available; therefore the history of that period will be sketchy.

Of historical importance during this time are the general club civic projects. Among these were the landscaping of the Dade City Grammar School, Dade City Armory, Pasco High School (now Pasco Junior High), Pasco Elementary School, the Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Memorial Hospital (after both new additions).

Dade City Grammar is now Rodney B. Cox Elementary School.

On Arbor Day, January 1963, a magnolia tree was planted by the club, dedicated to the building committee of Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Arbor Day, January 1964 the club planted two palms on the hospital grounds and again trees were planted on a similar date in 1965.

The apex on West Meridian and Florida 52 and 41 was also a club project. Live oaks and red bud trees were planted on the American Legion grounds by the general club ladies.

Radio Garden Tips were presented monthly. Other events included a bookshelf established at Hugh Embry Library honoring past presidents and as a memorial for club members.

Several Junior Garden awards were won during this time.

In cooperation with the City, we worked at planting and tree trimming around the community. Our involvement became evident in many ways as cooperating with other civic clubs we bought and installed a Club Emblem on the wire “Welcome” signboard north of the city.

With records starting September 1958, the incoming president was Joyce Covington.

The Garden Center Committee continued to look for available property to establish a center. The most desirable spot was the Henry Property on South 5th Street, 2.3 acres for the total of $9,000. It was available for $1,000 down, and $75 plus interest monthly. On the property were several fruit trees. After much discussion the club voted 19 to 8 to purchase the property.

Being a non-profit organization, in order to support the civic projects and pay for the property, it became necessary to promote many luncheons, fashion shows, silver teas, bazaars, smorgasbords, plant sales, bake sales and a Variety Show held at Pasco High School.

In 1959-60, Charles Jackson, then city manager, John Burks, mayor, and the entire commission met with the club and discussed landscaping islands on Meridian. The five circles did the gardening and were commended by the commission.

In 1965, Dade City was declared a bird sanctuary and signs were erected at all entrances to the city.

After seven years, on May 24, 1966, the Land Mortgage was burned, and ten years later, in August 1976, Saint Rita Catholic Church gave us our present clubhouse, which they used as a church before building the new one on 14th Street.

This church was built in 1913 with several additions throughout the years. President Inez Jeter called a special meeting that August and plans to move the church to the Garden Club property were begun.

Tillman Smith, a building mover from Lakeland, began the great responsibility. The club hoped that the steeple could be removed so it could be used as a gazebo on the grounds but it had to be torn off.

Florida Telephone, Tampa Electric Company and Dade City street workers all took down poles and electric wires and street signs.

Bob Roberts, Standard Oil dealer, took down the fencing around his property to make a passage way. John R. White, an architect from Brooksville, gave freely of his time to draw the foundation plans to set the building, and Lawrence Puckett drew up the blueprint.

Attorney William Brewton advised the club to borrow some money to pay contractors to finish the club house. Three contractors were contacted with Mike Giella, under Covington and Giella, submitting the estimate the club chose to use in restoration of the building. The work began in the spring of 1977.

As the building was nearing completion, the Garden Center Fund Raising committee realized that the mortgage would be much less if we shared our needs with the public. The response was overwhelming. Kitchen equipment, draperies, lighting fixtures, furniture, landscaping plants, grass sod, and memorial donations were given by: Madelyn Butler; Catherine Deal; Inez Jeter; Cassie Dowling; Thelma Touchton, Jr.; Mr. and Mrs. Freeman K. Polk; Pasco Junior High School students, and many many more. An open house was held Dec. 4, 1977.

On Arbor Day in January 1977, a magnolia tree from Madelyn Butler’s yard was planted to honor Thelma Gilbert who was the organizer and first president of the Dade City Garden Club having served starting May 19, 1947.

Ray’s Ruby Azaleas and bottle brush were donated by Inez Jeter. On Arbor day in 1978, a Memorial Camellia Garden was dedicated and eight camellias planted in memory of loved ones by Madelyn Butler and other members. In Arbor Day 1979, a large Alba Plena white camellia contributed by Madelyn Butler was planted honoring and in dedication to Inez Jeter who was club president from 1976-79.

A library has been established in the north balcony. This is a Magnolia Circle project with Pat Carver and Laura Johnson as Co-chairmen. The library contains many good gardening and flower arrangement books contributed by members of the club.

The Dade City Garden Club aims and vision for the future are to begin even more than ever trying to reach beyond, and be an even greater asset and influence to those around us.

We want to do this because we are indebted to many, many people, including those who gave financial help, understanding, patience and endurance.


Perhaps first flower show.




1960s field trip.



Mrs. Alva Chapman, Mrs. Don Foxworthy, Mrs. Anna Fairty, Dr. Don L. Foxworthy,
Mrs. Andrew A. Gurke, Mrs. N. B. Henderson at District VIII, June 2, 1971.

Susie Busbee, Pearl Hancock, Bessie Swift, 1973.

Katherine Deal, Madelyn Butler, 1980s.


Past presidents, 1992.

1993 flower show.



1997 or 1998 past presidents.



2010 Magnolia officers.

2016 Magnolia trip to Sunken Gardens.

Celebrating 50th anniversary: Beth Hammond, Billie Daboll, Lou Amdahl,
Jeanine Stephens, Norma Hope.

Dade City Historical Ornaments

Pictures of the ornaments are here.

1994Pasco County Courthouse
1995Dade City Grammar School (Cox Elementary)
1996Dade City Garden Club
1997First Presbyterian Church of Dade City
1998Historic Pasco County Courthouse
1999Dade City Woman’s Club
2000Pioneer Florida Museum
2001Edwinola Hotel
2002St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
2003St. Leo Abbey Church
2004First United Methodist Church of Dade City
2005National Guard Armory
2006Atlantic Coastline Railroad Depot
2007First Baptist Church of Dade City
2008Williams/Lunch on Limoges
2009Pasco High School
2010Lacoochee School House at the Pioneer Museum
2011Pasco Packing Plant
2012Pasco County World War II Memorial
20131913 Pasco High School
2014Pasco County Fair
2015St. Rita Catholic Church
2016Jackson Memorial Hospital
2017A Matter of Taste/Florida Telephone Building

Moving the Church, Feb. 1977

PDF Downloads

1948 Yearbook


50th Anniversary Booklet, part 1

50th Anniversary Booklet, part 2

Flower Show Titles by Year

More Pictures

1952 Dade City Banner article

1952 Dade City Banner article

1953 Club wins awards

1953 Flower show brochure

1955 Dade City Banner article

1957 Dade City Banner article

1957 brochure

1960 Dade City Banner article

1966 3 pictures

1972 Dade City Banner article

1977 picture

1977 picture

1980 picture

1991 picture

1997 newspaper article

1997 pictures

1998 Flower show brochure

2005 Pasco News article

2007-08 brochure

2008 Tampa Bay Times article

2015 picture

2017 Dade City News article

Thanks to Madonna Wise, who provided the content for this page.

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